Getting It Wrong Brilliantly: Jeff Somers’ Electric Church

Have a gander around and count the smartphones, the “hoverboards” and the extrovert-redundant society around you. Got a number? Because @jeffreysomers didn’t, though that’s not neccesarily a bad thing.

Library Journal called The Electric Church “a dark future of high tech and low dreams in an action-filled noir thriller reminiscent of Blade Runner.” A dark future it is, full oThe Electric Churchf dirty, undernourished people jostling each other around trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic metropolitan wasteland. And Avery Cates, mercenary Gunner, is just trying to survive it all, taking any job he can- even one dealing with the monks of the Electric Church, who would jam your brain in one of their robot bodies with a plastic smile and a prayer on their silicon breath. Cyberpunk distilled to back-alley rotgut gin.

But Blade Runner it is not. Replicant-filled LA in 2019? More like Friday teatime in New York, circa 2015. The awe-inspiring tech and equally awe-inspiring squalor gets turned way down in Somers’ take on the genre. What’s missing is the grandeur of the tech, the soaring, eight-story billboards juxtaposed against the dirty, writhing humanity in the streets. He’s got the writhing humanity down, of course. But only so much as a tourist in New York would understand the daily tribulations of a native. The result is a banality that infuses the work- you can’t help but feel the author doesn’t understand the inverse relationship between the rise of profit-driven technology and inevitable poverty, even as his characters grind on about the employed male as an extinct species. Ultimately it does ensconce a fear about the nature of leadership, but the metaphor is thinner than a latex raincoat, and more of a Mary Sue than anything.

As Bane so adequately put it, “You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding!”

The Electric Church is, however, lots of bloody fun, and your afternoon would not be wasted reading it. In place of the dystopia of the 1980’s, there’s a very millenial sense of destruction for the sake of construction. Hope in the form of bullets, deus ex machina that aren’t offensive in the least. Admittedly, it was difficult to be invested in the moral ruin of the protagonist or the lackluster supporting characters (Middle-aged twins? Really? You couldn’t give us the full Blade Runner and have cyber-augmented bunny girls?) but the fact that you don’t give a Roon about them makes it easy to accept their miraculous victories and wild west gunslinger antics. The armor-piercing bullets and the guardian angel that shows up just in time. It’s just an awesome ride in the vein of Wanted, or Suckerpunch, that makes me feel it’s a better movie than a book. The Electric Church is the dive bar to Blade Runner’s gastropub, so strap on your boots and go looking for the girl with the torn stockings.

That cover tho. It’s like a Depeche Mode tattoo on that fishnetted ass.

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